tor·​toise·​shell | \ ˈtȯr-tə-ˌshel How to pronounce tortoiseshell (audio) , -əsh-ˌshel \

Definition of tortoiseshell

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the mottled horny substance of the shell of the hawksbill turtle used especially formerly in inlaying and in making various ornamental articles
2 or tortoiseshell butterfly : any of several showy nymphalid butterflies (genera Nymphalis and Aglais) that have wings mottled with orange and brown or black



Definition of tortoiseshell (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : made of or resembling tortoiseshell especially in mottled brown and yellow coloring tortoiseshell glasses
2 : of, relating to, or being a color pattern of the domestic cat consisting of patches of black, orange, and cream

Examples of tortoiseshell in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun That pair, featuring light Havana tortoiseshell frames with icy blue lenses, was one of many 714s that McQueen sported throughout his career, on-screen in such hits as Bullitt and The Getaway and in his personal life. Kareem Rashed, Robb Report, "Steve McQueen’s Iconic Persol Sunglasses Are Back—for Good," 12 Apr. 2021 The only difference between the fictional version and the real-life look was Driver’s oversized, tortoiseshell eyeglasses. Eliza Huber,, "How Lady Gaga’s House Of Gucci Wedding Dress Compares To The Original," 9 Apr. 2021 Duckie, their young tortoiseshell cat, on the other hand, is still an explorer-in-training. Sarah Sekula, USA TODAY, "Have cat, will travel: These #adventurecats love to surf, swim, hike and camp," 23 Feb. 2021 His eclectic vision of French hospitality continues across the street at Café Les Deux Gares, a traditional bistro that includes a cherry-red bar and a trompe l’oeil tortoiseshell ceiling by the artist Pauline Leyravaud. Aimee Farrell, New York Times, "The T List: Five Things We Recommend This Week," 1 Oct. 2020 Highlight these interesting frames with bold details like a thick tortoiseshell or an unexpected color. The Good Housekeeping Editors, Good Housekeeping, "How To Find the Best Frames For Your Face Shape," 30 June 2020 Victor Quinaz, a writer with tortoiseshell glasses and a quarantine beard, was subbing for the absent actor Zach Galifianakis, who was to play a new character. Laura Lane, The New Yorker, "What’s a Writers’ Room Without Junk Food?," 25 May 2020 Some, like a charming rhinoceros, a collage created from tortoiseshell, pearls and shells, are merely lovely. New York Times, "21 Art Exhibitions to View in N.Y.C. This Weekend," 27 Feb. 2020 Kate Middleton’s go-to pair is available in a summer-ready tortoiseshell, while Ray-Ban’s classic Wayfarer style, loved by Reese Witherspoon, is more than $50 off. Stephanie Perry, Travel + Leisure, "The Ray-Bans Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton, and More Celebs Love Are on Sale Now," 22 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective LovieaShop created a tortoiseshell face mask chain that is available in multiple colors like One, a cream and tan, and Eight, a pink ombré. Nicole Saunders, NBC News, "18 best face mask accessories of 2021," 2 Apr. 2021 Hazel is quietly plotting her escape behind extremely cute tortoiseshell sunglasses with lenses shaped like hexagons. Jessica Goldstein, Vulture, "Made for Love Premiere Recap: I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Head," 1 Apr. 2021 Tom's Oyster Bar founder Tom Brandel, a fixture of the local dining scene since the 1970s with his trademark bow-tie and tortoiseshell glasses, died Thursday, according to the restaurant's current owner. Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press, "Notable Detroit-area restaurateur Tom Brandel of Tom's Oyster Bar fame has died," 4 Sep. 2020 From a closet-size barber stall, three men called out; a merchant in another stall held up his tortoiseshell cat. Exploring Luxor’s riches After a celebratory breakfast the next day — crepes, strawberry juice, Turkish coffee — our cruise ended. Michelle Green, New York Times, "A Nile Journey Guided by 19th-Century Women," 11 Nov. 2019 Meghan also donned a pair of her favorite Sarah Flint pumps, which feature a tortoiseshell heel. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Meghan Markle Just Wore the Chicest Wrap Jacket by Australian Designer Scanlan Theodore," 27 Oct. 2018 Matchett also produces tortoiseshell hair accessories and has expanded into silver and gold stainless steel hoops too. Emily Farra, Vogue, "Get a Head Start on Holiday Shopping With This Line of Pretty, Affordable Tortoiseshell Earrings," 1 Nov. 2017 He was dressed casually but crisply, tortoiseshell glasses framing his face and a giant analog watch devouring his right wrist. Jesse Lichtenstein, New York Times, "A Whimsical Wordsmith Charts a Course Beyond Twitter," 15 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tortoiseshell.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tortoiseshell


1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for tortoiseshell

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The first known use of tortoiseshell was in 1632

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Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tortoiseshell.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for tortoiseshell



English Language Learners Definition of tortoiseshell

: the usually brown and yellow shell of a turtle that is used to make decorations
: a cat with yellow, orange, white, and black fur
: a usually brown and orange butterfly


tor·​toise·​shell | \ ˈtȯr-təs-ˌshel How to pronounce tortoiseshell (audio) \

Kids Definition of tortoiseshell

1 : a hard brown and yellow material that covers the shell of a sea tortoise used especially in the past for ornamental objects
2 : a brightly colored butterfly

More from Merriam-Webster on tortoiseshell

Nglish: Translation of tortoiseshell for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about tortoiseshell

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